Award-winning author Carl Deuker visited Redmond Junior High (RJH) Friday afternoon and talked to a group of seventh- and eighth-grade students about his writing process.
“Carl Deuker’s books ‘High Heat’ and ‘The Runner’ are on our seventh grade summer reading list. ‘Gym Candy’ is on our eighth grade list,” said RJH librarian Kendra Friday. “He writes high-interest sports books. They always have a main character with serious problems or flaws that conflict with the sport. For example, in ‘Gym Candy,’ Mick wants to be a running back, but feels he is too small. He turns to steroids to gain an advantage.”
Deuker, a teacher in the Northshore School District, writes his stories in the first person and said he seems to appeal to “reluctant readers” by keeping his language simple and down-to-earth.
“Kids get very involved in the characters. They ask what happens to them later, want to know if there’s going to be a sequel,” said Deuker.
Deuker said he wrote songs, starting when he was about the same age as the RJH students, before he wrote books.
“I’ll tell you about the image of a writer that I had back then,” Deuker noted, describing his fascination with the Russian author Nikolai Gogel “who’d research people, wear their costumes, get totally engrossed, work from 2 a.m. to 6 a.m., collapse, sleep for a while, then go out and do more research again. A lot of people think that’s what writers are like. When I first started, that’s what I thought, too.”
In reality, Deuker said, “I’m a normal person. I like to eat and sleep and go to a ball game once in a while.” Thus, he learned Gogel’s lifestyle wouldn’t work for him.
Another mistake Deuker made, early in his writing career, “was trying to write things that were hard to understand, but no one wanted to read this heavy stuff,” he said. “For years and years, I failed. … Then I decided to write things I knew about, like high school and sports, instead of exotic stuff.”
He added, “I try now to write so no one even thinks there’s an author there.”
Deuker also said he avoids similes and metaphors “because they take you away from the character’s voice. I don’t want you to stop to say, ‘That was a really great sentence!’ or to pull you away from the character.”
Although most of his books have sports themes, Deuker said there is more to each story than sports jargon.
“I like to look at conflicts, where there are hard choices,” he said. And many of his stories are based on disturbing real-life incidents, but he will change the ending to offer a different way that things can turn out, Deuker explained.
He asked the students how many had tried to write a poem or a story. A few raised their hands, but Deuker pointed out that whenever they have imaginary conversations in their heads — for instance, with their mom or a teacher — they’re practicing writing skills without even knowing it.
“When you’re a writer, you can say what you want to say,” he told them.
Deuker encouraged the kids to read “and see the world through other people’s eyes.”
He said his next book, including a gang conflict, will be called “Payback Time.”